Triglyceride levels are typically measured at an annual doctor’s appointment, along with blood pressure and cholesterol. However, it seems like people take blood pressure and cholesterol levels more seriously and tend to ignore or be more relaxed about a high triglyceride reading. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to just explain what triglycerides are, ideal ranges, and what a high reading can mean about your health.
About 95% of the fats inside our bodies are made up of triglycerides, and they are found both in our blood and our tissues. When we eat too many calories (essentially, more than we can burn up each day), triglycerides are stored as fat inside our bodies. Unsaturated fatty acids make triglycerides more fluid, whereas saturated fats are straight and therefore make the triglycerides more rigid and solid. High triglyceride levels are one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, and since excess triglycerides are stored as body fat, they are directly linked to obesity as well.
The Blood Sugar & Triglyceride Connection
This can be a bit confusing but it's really important, so pay attention!
When we consume glucose in any form from any food, our pancreas releases insulin so we can get that glucose into our cells quickly to be used as energy. This, in turn, inhibits the release of triglycerides (because if we have glucose, we don’t need to use our triglycerides for energy).
However, when blood sugar imbalances are present and insulin resistance is occurring, we may have plenty of glucose in the blood, but no insulin to help get it into our cells to be used for energy. And when we need energy, our bodies respond. If the cells don’t have glucose, they turn to triglycerides. Therefore, our cells will continuously release triglycerides into the blood so we have something to burn as energy. However, if our triglycerides are constantly being used up, our liver is stimulated to produce even more triglycerides, which overloads the blood with them. This creates blood that is overloaded with triglycerides, glucose, and unproductive insulin – all risk factors for heart disease.
In a healthy, balanced body, insulin does its job of grabbing glucose as soon as the meal is eaten, placing it into the cells, and therefore supplying the energy needed to go on with the day. The liver is not stimulated to produce triglycerides, so blood levels stay healthy.
Elevated triglyceride levels can result from a number of different things. A chromium deficiency can increase triglycerides, as can too much vitamin E in the diet. Cirrhosis of the liver, a diet too high in carbs and too low in protein, too much alcohol, hypothyroidism, and poorly controlled diabetes can also lead to high triglycerides. However, most often elevated triglycerides are a result of one of two things: either someone is eating more calories than their body needs for daily energy, or their blood sugar is out of balance and so their body is confused and is producing more triglycerides than it really needs. A combination of these two things is also often the cause of high triglycerides.
Fish oil is one way to lower triglycerides. Supplementing with 2-4 grams of EPA and DHA (combined) daily has successfully lowered triglycerides in many people, along with reducing inflammation, reducing blood clotting, and stabilizing the heart.
Dietary changes can lower triglyceride levels as well. Balancing your blood sugar is a great way to lower triglycerides. I talk about blood sugar often – go HERE to read more about it. Other dietary measures that can help lower triglycerides include reducing calories to only those you need each day; reducing fat from non-whole food sources; increasing omega-3 fatty acids to 4 grams per day; reduction in alcohol intake; and weight loss.
NOTE: A triglyceride level of less than 100 mg/dL is desirable. “Normal” triglyceride levels are less than 150 mg/dL, borderline high is 150-199 mg/dL, and high is anything over 200 mg/dL.